what's left

Stephen Zunes’ False Statements on Zimbabwe and Woza

Posted in Civil Society, Color Revolutions, Imperialism, NGOs, Non-Violent Direct Action, Zimbabwe by what's left on September 30, 2008

By Stephen Gowans

Stephen Zunes is making a career of legitimizing fundamental US government assessments of all but a few of its foreign policy targets, uncritically mimicking State Department slanders of target countries and falsely declaring US funded regime change organizations to be “progressive organizations which could by no means be considered American agents.”

Reacting to a Netfa Freeman article in the Black Agenda Report criticizing his position on Zimbabwe, Zunes refers to “Mugabe’s election fraud, mismanagement of the economy, and human rights abuses.” This is State Department boilerplate. While it would be too much to ask Zunes to back up his statements in his brief reply to Freeman’s article, I cannot recall that he has ever produced evidence of any of his charges against US foreign policy targets in his longer articles, or has ever shown the slightest hint of scepticism regarding the charges Washington has levelled against “outposts of tyranny.” Instead, Zunes freely apes State Department rhetoric, defending from the left fundamental State Department views.

Particularly galling is his reference to Mugabe’s “mismanagement of the economy,” standard fare from US Secretaries of State, the CIA and New York Times, but hardly what one would expect from a critical and sceptical progressive who claims to be independent of US establishment positions. Attributing Zimbabwe’s economic difficulties to Mugabe’s policy errors whitewashes the role of the US in sabotaging Zimbabwe’s economy through the US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, which effectively cuts Harare off from balance of payment loans, development assistance and lines of credit from international lending agencies.

In his reply to Freeman, Zunes falsely states that Women of Zimbabwe Arise can by no means be considered American agents. The group’s leader, Jenni Williams, was presented with the State Department’s 2007 International Woman of Courage Award for Africa by Condoleezza Rice in a March, 2007 ceremony in Washington. The US State Department does not give out awards to people who work against the interests of the US economic elite. It does, however, award those who advance the elite’s positions.

A US government report on the activities in 2007 of its mission to Zimbabwe reveals that the “US Government continued its assistance to Women of Zimbabwe Arise.” US government assistance to Woza and other civil society organizations was channeled through Freedom House and PACT. Freedom House, which is interlocked with the CIA and is a “virtual propaganda arm of the (US) government and international right wing,” according to Noam Chomsky’s and Edward Herman’s Manufacturing Consent, is headed by Peter Ackerman, who also heads up the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC). Stephen Zunes is chair of the board of academic advisors to the ICNC. Ackerman’s wife, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, is a former director of the Albert Einstein Institute, an organization which trained activists in popular insurrection techniques to overthrow Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution. Zunes has vigorously defended the AEI. She is also currently a director of the US foreign policy establishment-dominated Human Rights Watch, which recently launched a dishonest attack on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s human rights record.

Woza supports two US State Department propaganda vehicles: SW Radio Africa, a US State Department funded short-wave radio station that beams anti-Mugabe propaganda into Zimbabwe, and the Voice of America’s Studio 7, also funded by the State Department to broadcast US foreign policy positions into Zimbabwe. All political parties in Zimbabwe have, in their recent Memorandum of Understanding, urged journalists to abandon these pirate radio stations to “start working for the good of the country rather than for its enemies.” Jenni Williams and Woza are not, as Zunes falsely claims, working independently of the US government.

Zunes is close to individuals and organizations that are members of the US foreign policy establishment (Freedom House head and Council on Foreign Relations member Peter Ackerman) and have received funding from the US government and ruling class foundations to train popular insurrection groups to overthrow US foreign policy targets (Gene Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institute). He has been criticized from the left by Michael Barker, Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster, and George Ciccariello-Maher and Eva Golinger. He is intolerant of criticism, asking WordPress to shut down my blog for criticisms of his association with Ackerman.

His modus operandi is to accept State Department denunciations of most US foreign policy targets as true, while attacking Washington’s foreign policy for being based on hypocrisy. He denies that insurrectionary movements trained by organizations that are funded by wealthy individuals, ruling class foundations and Western governments are agents of US imperialism, portraying them instead as independent grassroots groups.

There is much about Zunes to raise doubts about his politics.

Heidi Holland’s Dinner with Mugabe: Failed Demonography

Posted in Zimbabwe by what's left on September 28, 2008

By Stephen Gowans

Journalist Heidi Holland’s biography of Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe, Dinner with Mugabe, begins with the assumption that Zimbabwe’s long-standing president is a monster. In addition, Mugabe, who recently struck a deal with factions of the opposition MDC to share power, is accused by his biographer of creating “a de facto one party state,” [1] and of “failings and excesses” that have left Zimbabweans “starving” [2] – standard fare from Western journalists.

The fact that Zimbabwe’s opposition now controls the legislature and is due to hold a majority of cabinet posts clashes violently with Holland’s depiction of the country as a de facto one party state. By comparison, no one, much less Holland, complains about South Africa, truly a de facto one party state, which suggests that whatever beefs she has with Zimbabwe have nothing to with it being a de facto one party state, (which it isn’t) otherwise we might expect South Africa, and not just Zimbabwe, to fall within her sights (which it hasn’t.)

As for the hunger of Zimbabweans being due to what Holland describes as Mugabe’s failings and excesses, this too clashes violently with reality. Western sanctions have blocked Zimbabwe’s access to balance of payment support, development aid and other lines of credit. Additionally, drought and electricity shortages have created food insecurity throughout southern Africa, including Zimbabwe. [3] Only if bad weather and standing up to Western bullying count as failings, have Holland’s charges substance.

Proving that Mugabe is a monster, as opposed to uncritically accepting his status as one, isn’t on Holland’s agenda, any more than proving any of her other charges is. All accusations are to be taken as given, starting points for exploring “the untold story of how a freedom fighter became a tyrant.” Holland’s quest, then, isn’t to challenge the received, though unsubstantiated, wisdom, but to affirm it, offering a “psychobiography of a man whose once-brilliant career has ruined Zimbabwe and cast shame on the African continent.”

This reveals much about Holland. Mugabe’s “once brilliant career”, happens to coincide with the period during which he played by the West’s rules, while his subsequent “ruining” of Zimbabwe, coincides with his breaking the rules to redress historical wrongs related to land ownership and to carry out other measures to invest Zimbabwe’s break with colonialism with substantive content. In other words, the view that says Mugabe was once a paragon who has become a tyrant equates his early “brilliance” to keeping former colonists in London and international lenders happy while chalking up as a “failure and excess” his measures to reverse Western domination. This is a curious view from the perspective of democracy, but perfectly understandable from the point of view of imperialism.

Dinner with Mugabe is a “psychobiography,” the standard form favored by authors who want to avoid substantive policy issues, in favor of dwelling in a comic-book world of heroes and villains. There is a shocking absence of policy mentioned in most discussions of politics, including – if not especially – among many on the left, who think the brilliance of any political analysis can be measured by the number of times the author uses the words “thug,” “brutal dictator” and “tyrant.” Holland’s biography is in this mold.

What of policies? It is worthwhile to quote Michael Parenti on this.

“One of the things I try to do is find out what leaders actually do when they’re in power. That’s one of the great hidden questions in history. You can read about six or seven different biographies of Stalin, and they never tell you what he actually did in terms of the programs of the country. You read about his purges of Bukharin and Zinoviev and his fight with Trotsky and this and that. But what were the socio-economic policies he actually pursued? The same with Hitler. I’ve read numerous biographies of Hitler. What did Hitler actually do? What was his political economic program? You find out it was a program in which he cut the taxes for the rich, he cut back wages, he destroyed unions and privatized everything.” [4]

Silence on the political and economic programs of leaders is particularly evident in the case of Zimbabwe, where Western political analyses almost invariably ignore the policies of Zimbabwe’s main political parties and the differences between them. In extreme cases, not only are the policies of the parties ignored, their differences are denied. For example, Shawn Hattingh, a research and education officer at the International Labor Research and Information Group, wrote an August 14, 2008 MRZine article, describing Zanu-PF and the MDC as two sides of the same neo-liberal coin.

There’s no question the MDC is neo-liberal. The party’s 2000 “Social and Economic Policies for a New Millennium,” makes a commitment to a program of privatization. Foreign direct investment, under a MDC government, would be courted by the appointment of a “fund manager to dispose of government-owned shares in publicly quoted companies.” [5]

Eddie Cross, then the MDC’s Secretary of Economic Affairs, explained the party’s economic plan.

“First of all, we believe in the free market. We do not support price control. We do not support government interfering in the way people manage their lives. We are in favor of reduced levels of taxation. We are going to fast track privatization. All fifty government (enterprises) will be privatized within a two-year frame, but we are going far beyond that. We are going to privatize many of the functions of government. We are going to privatize the Central Statistics Office. We are going to privatize virtually the entire school delivery system. And you know, we have looked at the numbers and we think we can get government employment down from about 300,000 at the present time to about 75,000 in five years.” [6]

Eight years later, the MDC’s fondness for neo-liberalism remains undiminished. The party set out its core beliefs and proposals in its 2008 election platform, declaring an unwavering commitment to the safety and security of individual and corporate property rights and the opening of industry to foreign direct investment. Expatriation of profits is favored, without restriction. The party promised to privatize postal services, telecom and electronic media and to remove the price controls the Mugabe government has introduced to protect Zimbabweans from the ravages of hyperinflation. The Zanu-PF government’s economic indigenization program, which seeks to place control of the country’s resources in the hands of Zimbabweans, would also be cut by an MDC government. Private enterprise would be the engine of economic growth in a new Zimbabwe – particularly private enterprise owned by foreign investors. [7]

Zanu-PF, contrary to Hattingh’s delusions, is not neo-liberal. If it were, there would be no public companies for the MDC to promise to privatize, no subsidies for basic goods the MDC could propose to eliminate, and no differential treatment of foreign investors for the MDC to pledge to abolish. Moreover, were Zanu-PF neo-liberal, it would be the first and only case of a neo-liberal party that has rejected, and has been rejected by, the IMF, and the only neo-liberal party that restricts foreign ownership levels in key sectors, pursues public policy goals through state ownership of key enterprises, provides subsidized food baskets, imposes price controls and rejects national treatment of foreign investors.

The fact of the matter is that it is precisely because the Zanu-PF government is not neo-liberal that the US, Britain and EU have campaigned vigorously to drive Mugabe – and his non-neo-liberal policies – out of Harare. No Third World government can generate the following record without running afoul of Washington, London and Brussels.

o “Total government expenditures, including consumption and transfer payments, are very high. In the most recent year, government spending equaled 50.3 percent of GDP. Privatization has stalled, and the government remains highly interventionist;

o “The government sets price ceilings for essential commodities such as agricultural seeds, bread, maize meal, sugar, beef, stock feeds, and fertilizer; controls the prices of basic goods and food staples; influences prices through subsidies and state-owned enterprises and utilities;

o “The government will consider foreign investment up to 100 percent in high-priority projects but applies pressure for eventual majority ownership by Zimbabweans;

o “Zimbabwe has burdensome tax rates. The top income tax rate is 47.5 percent, and the top corporate tax rate is 30 percent.” [8]

To be sure, the policies that have been pursued by the Zanu-PF government are not socialist, but they are, at the same time, deeply hostile to neo-liberalism, and lean more strongly in the direction of social democracy than the economic policies of many social democratic and socialist governments elsewhere.

At one point, in the 1990s, the Mugabe government did accept the neo-liberal economic structural adjustment program demanded by the IMF, with devastating consequences. From 1991 to 1995, Mugabe’s government implemented the IMF program as a condition of receiving balance of payment support and the restructuring of its debt. The program required the government to cut its spending deeply, fire tens of thousands of civil servants, and slash social programs. Zimbabwe’s efforts to nurture infant industries were to be abandoned. Instead, the country’s doors were to be opened to foreign investment. Harare would radically reduce taxes and forbear from any measure designed to give domestic investors a leg up on foreign competitors, even though the US, Germany, Japan and South Korea, as young developing countries, had become capitalist powerhouses by adopting the very same protectionist and import substitution policies the IMF was forbidding.

The effect of the IMF program was devastating. Manufacturing employment tumbled nine percent between 1991 and 1996, while wages dropped 26 percent. Public sector employment plunged 23 percent and public sector wages plummeted 40 percent. [9] In contrast to the frequent news stories today on Zimbabwe’s fragile economy, the Western press barely noticed the devastation the IMF’s disastrous economic policies brought to Zimbabwe. By 1996, the Mugabe government was starting to back away from the IMF prescriptions. By 1998, it was in open revolt, imposing new tariffs to protect infant industries and providing incentives to black Zimbabwean investors as part of an affirmative action program to encourage African ownership of the economy. These policies were diametrically opposed, not only to the IMF’s program of structural adjustment, but to the open door goals of US foreign policy. By 1999, the break was complete. The IMF refused to extend loans to Zimbabwe. By February, 2001, Zimbabwe was in arrears to the Bretton Woods institution. Ten months later, the US introduced the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, a dagger through the heart of Zimbabwe’s economy, which denied the country lines of credit from international lending institutions and pushed the economy into a tailspin. “Zimbabwe,” says Mugabe, “is not a friend of the IMF and is unlikely to be its friend in the future.” [10]

While Holland’s goal in writing Dinner with Mugabe is to reinforce the campaign of vilifying Mugabe begun in London, Washington, and Brussels, her biography only accomplishes its aim if the starting assumption of the book – that Mugabe is a monster – is accepted. If you don’t accept it, the book does quite the opposite of what it sets out to do. Through a series of interviews with people who have played significant roles in Mugabe’s life, texture, context and understanding, deeply at odds with the comic-book caricature of the man, emerge. If you read only the transcripts of the interviews Holland builds her book around, and not her interpretation of the transcripts, you come away with an entirely different impression than the one Holland intends. In this, Holland has utterly failed as a demonographer.

Through the lens of people who have known him, Mugabe is portrayed as a revolutionary forced to make concessions and compromises to deal with the world as it is, not as he would like it to be. Britain often plays the role of spoiling, blocking and undermining the revolutionary aims of Zimbabwe’s national liberation struggle. “Mugabe,” explains Holland, “was not just a political leader, but a revolutionary one, pledged to righting the wrongs of the past.” [11] Britain, however, has made the journey a difficult one.

To balance her sensationalist and demonical caricature of her subject, Holland details the social gains Zimbabwe has achieved under Mugabe’s leadership.

“His administration guaranteed educational opportunities for Zimbabwe’s black population where few had existed before. High school enrollment, which had been about two percent at the time of independence, grew to 70 percent by 1990, and Zimbabwe’s literacy rate rose from 45 percent to nearly 80 percent in the same period.” [12] He “did more to educate his people during his early years in office than any other leader in Africa.’ [13]

She notes, too, that “Mugabe also developed public health facilities to the point where rural dwellers were able to receive medical attention within walking distance of their villages.” [14]

While Mugabe is sometimes portrayed as an anti-white racist, Holland sets the record straight, pointing out that Mugabe “did his best to persuade the country’s 200,000 whites, including its 45,000 commercial farmers, to remain in Zimbabwe.” [15] She cites Mac McGuiness, the former leader of the notorious anti-insurgency unit of the Rhodesian army, the Selous Scouts. Mugabe

“undertook at independence to let bygones be bygones and he never lifted a finger against his former enemies, including Ian Smith, who was allowed to live in Zimbabwe as long as he pleased and to criticize Mugabe whenever he chose for the rest of his life. He was more generous to Smith than Smith was to him, that’s for sure.” [16]

Lady Soames, whose husband Lord Soames was the British governor of Zimbabwe until the first elections in 1980, told Holland that Mugabe was a “Marxist utopian…determined to promote state socialism even if he knew he couldn’t practice it.” [17]

On this score, Lord Carrington, the former British foreign minister who represented Britain at the Lancaster House talks which led to Zimbabwe’s independence, noted in conversation with Mugabe’s psychobiographer that Mugabe was forced to rein in his Marxist aspirations after witnessing the experiences of revolutionary governments in neighboring countries. During his exile in Tanzania and Mozambique, Carrington explained that,

“Mugabe had seen exactly what had happened to the economies of those two countries as a result of kicking out the whites and generally introducing pan-African socialism…So I thought, what with him being a Marxist…he was going to be very different indeed in office (but) once in office he became a capitalist, didn’t he?” [18]

This wasn’t Mugabe’s first encounter with compromise. Lord Carrington explained to Holland that,

“Everyone wanted some sort of solution (at Lancaster House) except Mugabe, who didn’t think it was necessary. And he was probably right. There is no doubt that Mugabe would not have signed the Lancaster House Agreement if presidents Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Samora Machel of Mozambique hadn’t prompted him to. [19]

They more than prompted him to. The two leaders told Mugabe that the guerilla forces fighting for the principle of one-man-one-vote and return of land confiscated by British settlers could no longer use their countries as bases from which to launch attacks against the Smith regime, forcing Mugabe to the negotiating table just when a military victory was in view. Had the liberation forces been allowed their military victory, much would have been different.

Mugabe was also forced into a compromise over the IMF’s economic structural adjustment program, Esap. Father Fidelis Mukonori, leader of Zimbabwe’s Jesuits, and a friend of Mugabe’s, told Holland that,

“Mugabe accepted Esap, saying he had little choice because it was imposed by northern hemisphere big-wings who never questioned its wisdom or side effects and who would refuse to work with you – if you didn’t…it caused a lot of suffering and Mugabe believed it marked the beginning of Zimbabwe’s dissatisfaction with Zanu-PF.” [20]

On the MDC, whose founding in 2000 was largely directed by Britain, Holland concedes what Mugabe has complained about for years: that the MDC is a vehicle of Britain and the white commercial farmers. She writes:

“It appears that Mugabe was correct in his belief that the former colonist was aiding and abetting the forces that opposed him, namely the MDC, in cahoots with the predominantly white Zimbabweans who had colonized and financed the party.” [21]

And further:

“Some European countries, including Britain, had given financial and other forms of support to the MDC. White farmers gave cheques to Morgan Tsvangirai on television during the 2000 election campaign.” [22]

If Holland’s book is largely unintentionally sympathetic to Mugabe in the reflections of those she interviews, it is most sympathetic in its consideration of land reform. Blame for the crises that have attended the Mugabe government’s efforts to democratize patterns of land ownership is laid squarely at the feet of the British government.

Holland begins by eliciting a favorable assessment of Mugabe by Clare Short, Tony Blair’s secretary of state for international development, who earned notoriety in Zimbabwe for backing away from the commitment made by the Thatcher government to help Harare defray the costs of land redistribution. In a letter to the Zimbabwe government, she wrote, “I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchases in Zimbabwe.” She closed by expressing concern that Mugabe’s land reform policies would impair foreign investor confidence. Interviewed by Holland, Short noted that, “Land was the point of colonialism and all the ugly power issues that went with it. Mugabe was a giant of history who liberated his country from oppression.” [23]

One of the most revealing parts of Holland’s book concerns the experience of Rajan Soni, hired by the British government as a land reform consultant. Once New Labour was in charge, Soni discovered that,

“It was absolutely clear from the attitude of (Clare Short’s) staff towards his recommendations that Labour’s strategy was to accelerate Mugabe’s unpopularity by failing to provide him with funding for land redistribution…They thought that if they didn’t give him money for land reform his people in the rural areas would start to turn against him. That was their position. They wanted him out, and they were going to do whatever they could to hasten his demise.” [24]

Land reform was a pressing issue in Zimbabwe that could not be ignored. Father Mukonori told Holland that,

“Everywhere…from town to town and village to village, the cry was the same as it had been during the war and throughout our history: ‘The soil is ours. The land question was never resolved. We want it resolved. The constitution was declared in London. We did not vote for it.’” [25]

While Holland attributes Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown to Mugabe’s excesses, her interview with the Selous Scout’s Mac McGuiness reveals a different view. “I think,” McGuiness told Holland, “that had the promises made to Mugabe been kept by the…British and others, Zimbabwe would not be in the state it is in today.” (26) Dennis Norman, a white farmer who became Zimbabwe’s first agriculture minister, agrees. “Mugabe couldn’t solve the land issue without money and he didn’t have money. I do blame Britain for that.” [27]

The texture, context and understanding offered by McGuiness, Norman and others are nowhere evident in Holland’s own depiction of Mugabe post-1999. While she portrays the early Mugabe as a hero of national liberation keen on righting historical wrongs, she turns sour on him at the point Mugabe takes the first bold post-independence steps to establish a substantive independence by expropriating the land of white commercial farmers for redistribution to black Zimbabweans. Liberation heroes can be feted so long as their actions leave the basic structure of Western economic domination in place. Encroach on capitalist property rights, impose conditions on foreign investment, wall off parts of the economy to foreign investors, favor domestic investors over Western ones, and reclaim stolen land, and honors and admiration soon turn to execration.

Since independence in 1980, Zimbabwe has been, to a diminishing degree, dominated by the West. Its economy, natural resources and land have historically been controlled by outsiders and settlers who came from outside and took what they wanted. Over the years, the Mugabe government has gradually asserted Zimbabwe’s independence, resisting US and British imperialist intrigues in southern Africa, ultimately rejecting the economic prescriptions of the Bretton Woods institutions (though accepting them at first), promoting black ownership of Zimbabwe’s resources and economy, and democratizing patterns of land ownership. Western governments, representing corporations and investors with interests in open door access to Zimbabwe, and white commercial farmers seeking to recover privileges established under racist Rhodesian rule, have used their considerable resources to thwart the Zanu-PF government’s efforts to build a truly independent Zimbabwe. An important part of the campaign has been to vilify Mugabe, to portray him as liberation hero turned tyrant. In its goals, Heidi Holland’s, Dinner with Mugabe, is part of this campaign. However, anyone who reads the book critically will discover there is much in it to challenge the comic-book caricature the author sets out to reinforce.

1. Heidi Holland, Dinner with Mugabe, Penguin Books, 2008. p. xx.
2. Holland, p. xv.
3. Stephen Gowans, “The real cause of Zimbabwe’s food crisis,” Race & History, June 4, 2005. http://www.raceandhistory.com/selfnews/viewnews.cgi?newsid1117908112,43270,.shtml
4. Michael Parenti in Joel Wendland, “Interview with Michael Parenti,” Political Affairs, December, 2004. http://www.politicalaffairs.net/article/articleview/387/
5. Social and Economic Policies for a New Millennium,” MDC policy paper, May 26, 2000.
6. Patrick Bond and Masimba Manyanya, Zimbabwe’s Plunge – Exhausted Nationalism, Neoliberalism and the Search for Social Justice, Merlin Press, 2002.
7. Noah Tucker, “In the Shadow of Empire,” 21st Century Socialism, August 3, 2008, http://21stcenturysocialism.com/article/in_the_shadow_of_empire_01694.html
8. http://www.heritage.org/Index/country.cfm?id=Zimbabwe
9. Antonia Juhasz, “The Tragic Tale of the IMF in Zimbabwe,” Daily Mirror of Zimbabwe, March 7, 2004.
10. Herald (Zimbabwe) September 13, 2005.
11. Holland, p. 73.
12. Holland, p. xx.
13. Holland, p. 71.
14. Holland, p. xx.
15. Ibid.
16. Holland, p. 36.
17. Holland, p. 74.
18. Holland, p. 65.
19. Holland, p. 60.
20. Holland, p. 136.
21. Holland, p. 104.
22. Holland, p. 139.
23. Holland, p. 102.
24. Holland, p. 105.
25. Holland, p. 138.
26. Holland, p. 36.
27. Holland, p. 121.

The War over South Ossetia

Posted in Civil Society, Color Revolutions, Georgia, NGOs, Rose Revolution, Russia, South Ossetia by what's left on September 4, 2008

By Stephen Gowans

On August 4, 2008, Russia’s deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin phoned US assistant secretary of state Daniel Fried to complain about the build-up of Georgian troops in the vicinity of South Ossetia. [1] Two days later, South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity, having evidence that Georgia planned a military strike before the month was out, told Denis Keefe, Britain’s ambassador to Georgia, that a Georgian invasion was imminent. [2]

Georgia had increased its military budget from $30 million to $1 billion per year, under its US-aligned president, Mikhail Saakashvili, relying on deep infusions of aid from Washington. [3] A country of only 8 million, Georgia had sent 2,000 troops to help US forces occupy Iraq, the third largest occupation force in the oil-rich country, after the US and Britain. Tbilisi “considered participation in Iraq as a sure way to prepare the Georgian military for ‘national reunification’ – the local euphemism of choice for restoring Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgian control.” [4]

Georgia’s attack was emboldened by three US moves: the sending of “advisers to build up the Georgian military, including an exercise” in July “with more than 1,000 American troops”; Washington’s “pressing hard to bring Georgia into the NATO orbit;” and the US “loudly proclaiming its support for Georgia’s territorial integrity in the battle with Russia over Georgia’s separatist enclaves.” [5]

On the eve of the war, Russia convoked an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, presenting a resolution that called on both sides to renounce the use of force. [6] The US, Britain and France refused to back the resolution, arguing that it was unbalanced. Only South Ossetia and Russia should be called upon to renounce the use of force, they said. Georgia should be allowed to defend herself. [7]

The above shows that far from restraining the Georgian hand, the US was facilitating, even encouraging, an attack; that the South Ossetians and Russians anticipated an attack and that the Russians used their position at the United Nations to try to stop it; and that the West was setting the stage to blame the attack on the victims.

The war was swift, and for the Georgians, ignominious. Georgian forces were rapidly pushed back, their positions easily over-run and much of their equipment captured or destroyed. In the end, Saakashvili would rail against Russian aggression, and wonder histrionically who was next.

The Russians did not strike first, as Georgian officials now claim. The New York Times cited evidence from an extensive set of witnesses that Georgia’s military began to pound South Ossetia’s capital, Tskhinvali, with heavy barrages of rocket and artillery fire, after Saakashvili gave the order and before Russian troops entered Georgia. The result was hundreds of civilian deaths. Among the targets of the Georgian assault was a Russian peacekeeping base. There “has been no independent evidence, beyond Georgia’s insistence that its version is true, that Russian forces were attacking before the Georgian barrages,” reported The New York Times. [8] Moreover, an unnamed senior US official told the newspaper that Russia’s response didn’t look “premeditated, with a massive staging of equipment,” adding that “until the night before the fighting, Russia seemed to be playing a constructive role.” [9]

On August 26, Moscow recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent. Meanwhile, Saakashvili vowed to rebuild his army to try again at a later date. [10]

Origin of Tensions

Ossetians have their own language and, in recognition of this, enjoyed autonomy within Soviet Georgia. Abkhazia, too, was an autonomous region. When the Soviet Union dissolved, Georgia declared the autonomous status of both regions to be void, and attempted to integrate them. This sparked fighting between the Georgians on one side, and the South Ossetians and Abkhaz on the other. The two regions “settled into a tenuous peace monitored by Russian peacekeepers,” in which both enjoyed a de facto independence. But “frictions with Georgia increased sharply in 2004,” when Saakashvili was elected,“ pledging “to restore Tbilisi’s rule over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.” [11]


There are two overland routes for pumping petroleum resources from the oil- and gas-rich Caspian basin to markets in Europe: through Russia, and alternatively, through Western-built pipelines that run through Georgia. Washington would like Caspian oil and gas to be delivered to European markets through the pipelines Western oil companies control in Georgia; Moscow would like Europe to continue to rely on pipelines that transit Russia. [12]

Two Western pipelines run through Georgia: “the 1,000-mile Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan line, which can deliver up to one million barrels of crude a day from the Azerbaijani coast on the Caspian Sea, through Georgia and Turkey to the port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea”; and the BP-operated Western Route Export pipeline, capable of carrying up to “160,000 barrels of oil a day from Baku on the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan to the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa.” [13]

For Washington, the routes through Georgia represent a way of checking “Russia’s control over pipelines and energy resources.” Pipeline projects through Georgia are valued owing to their potential “to loosen Russia’s grip over European energy supplies”, and to fatten the bottom lines of US oil companies. [14]

From Moscow’s perspective, control of Georgia and its pipelines puts it in a position to establish an “energy chokehold on Europe.” [15]

Georgia, then, is of strategic importance to Washington because Western oil companies can transport “oil, and soon also gas, that lies not only in Azerbaijan, but beyond it in the Caspian Sea, and beyond it in Central Asia” to European markets, through Georgia, thereby cutting the Russians out of the action and giving Washington control over Europe’s energy resources. [16] Equally, Georgia is of strategic importance to Moscow for the same reasons.

Encircling Russia

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the United States found itself in a unique position. As the lone remaining superpower, it had the potential to dominate the world for the foreseeable future. To maintain its primacy, it would have to prevent potential rivals from growing strong enough to challenge US pre-eminence. The route to remaining top dog lay in unchallenged military supremacy, and the determination to use military force to eclipse the rise of potential competitors.

The Pentagon set out its strategy in the Defense Planning Guide, a 16-page Pentagon policy statement leaked to The New York Times, on March 18, 1992.

“Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival…First, the U.S. must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests.
We must account sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order. Finally, we must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” [17]

In 2000, a group of US ruling class activists established The Project for a New American Century, a think-tank whose aim was to press the Clinton administration to more closely follow the 1992 Defense Planning Guide’s blueprint for US primacy. Members of the group — investment bankers and CEOs who had circulated between top jobs in Washington and corporate America — furnished the personnel for key positions in the Bush administration and would soon become the principal architects of the war on Iraq. They urged the Pentagon to eclipse the rise of new greater power competitors, and to adopt this as its main 21st century mission. [18]

Russia was, and remains, of particular concern to the US ruling class. While weak compared to the Soviet Union, it remains the country most able to challenge the US. To preserve US military pre-eminence, Washington seeks to build a ring around Russia, integrating countries on Russia’s periphery into the Nato military alliance. Despite promises that it would not expand toward Russia’s borders, Nato’s policy since the demise of the Soviet Union has been to aggressively expand, dismissing the alarm raised by Russian leaders as paranoia. Expansion serves the purpose of hemming Russia in militarily and expands markets for US arms manufacturers who supply the standardized military equipment Nato countries buy as part of the alliance’s equipment interoperability requirement.

A continuing strategy

While it seems as if Washington’s encirclement strategy is new, dating from the early aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, it is, on the contrary, an extension of a Western policy pursued since the beginning of the Cold War.

The Cold War, remarked R. Palme Dutt in 1962, was “directed against the Soviet Union” since it, and the countries it liberated in WWII “remained…completely independent of American domination and control. The aims of American world domination required the overthrow of this independent power.” [19] The new Cold War is no less directed at Russia, and is no less perpetrated by the US, than the old one (or the continuing one) was.

These “ultimate major aims,” Dutt continued, “required as their presupposition and first step the building up of a coalition of governments and armed forces under American control.” The “long-term strategic plan required the preliminary conquest of (the Soviet Union’s) periphery, and establishment of a chain of bases and hinterland territories from which to launch the offensive.” [20]

Thus, it has been US policy since the beginning of the Cold War to encircle Russia with a chain of bases and armies under US domination. The strategy was not born in 1992 and cannot be said to be the brainchild of neo-conservatives of either the Bush I or Bush II administrations. Its origins stretch back to the 1940s.

In the West, the spat between Georgia and the Ossetians appears to be rooted in longstanding ethnic animosity, but in Russia, it is seen quite differently. Russians understand that the United States is gradually encircling their country, and that Georgia is an important link in the chain. [21] Russian president Dmitri Medvedev complains of “being surrounded by bases on all sides” and of the “growing number of states…being drawn into the North Atlantic bloc.” [22] He and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin protest vehemently against US plans to site antimissile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, on Russia’s doorstep. They fear, justifiably, that the missile shield is aimed at Russia, and provides the US with a new offensive capability.

Saakashvili and the Rose Revolution

Mikhail Saakashvili is typical of local rulers Washington brings to power to act as its proxy on the ground. He is US-educated, fanatically pro-American, and implicitly shares the imperialist values of his backers in Washington. It is not by chance that the Saakashvili government enthusiastically pledged troops to the occupation of Iraq, and named a street in honor of George W. Bush.

With aid from the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and billionaire financier George Soros’ Open Society Institute, Saakashvili was carried to power by the so-called Rose Revolution of 2004, a US ruling class-financed overthrow movement that forced Georgia’s then president Eduard Shevardnadze, to step down. Soros’ intimate connection to Saakashvili’s rise to power is evidenced in his helping finance the Georgian government once Saakashvili was installed in the president’s office, and in Georgia’s designation as Sorositan by critics of the financier’s meddling. [23]

Washington was happy to partner with Soros to rid Georgia of Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister who was too close to Russia and not close enough to Washington. Intent on extending its ring of armies and military bases around its potential great power competitor, the US finagled Shevardnadze’s ouster and replaced him with the biddable puppet, Saakashvili.

The name for our profits is democracy

While the official propaganda holds Saakashvili to be a champion of democracy, the real story is quite different. The Georgian president is in reality a champion of Western investment interests who is prepared to suspend political and civil liberties to crush opposition to his pro-US economic policies.

The World Bank recognizes Saakashvili’s Georgia to be “the number one economic reformer in the world,” having climbed to 18th place from a shameful 112th under Shevardnadze, by creating “a friendly business environment.” Saakashvili earned the bank’s high praise by replacing Georgia’s progressive income tax system with a regressive flat tax; [24] privatizing publicly-owned assets; and gutting the civil service. The latter action sparked huge street protests last autumn, which Saakashvili put down with riot police, rubber bullets and truncheons, charging that the protesters were planning to stage a coup, with Russia’s collusion. [25] Ruling with an iron fist, he had no qualms about dispatching masked police officers to ransack an opposition television station, forcing it off the air. [26] Soon after, he declared a state of emergency, suspending advocacy rights and freedom of assembly – an action which, had it been done by his predecessor Shevardnadze, would have called forth howls of outrage and new infusions of aid for pro-democracy activists from Western governments, imperialist foundations and billionaires. On Saakashvili’s watch, by contrast, abridgments of civil and political liberties are met with fond reminiscences of the Rose Revolution and paeans to Saakashvili’s pro-American leanings and supposed democratic credentials.

Saakashvili won snap elections held two months after he cracked down on protestors, but his victory was secured under a cloud of accusations of blackmail and vote-buying. The government accused two opposition leaders of treason, charging they were conspiring with Russia to overthrow Saakashvili. [27] Having himself come to power with the aid of outside forces, Saakashvili more than anyone else knew the danger of foreign-directed overthrow movements, and perhaps knew better than others, how to defeat them.

Post Rose Revolution

Once Saakashvili had been installed as president, Washington scaled back funding to the civil society organizations that had been instrumental in destabilizing Shevardnadze’s rule, shifting aid instead to building up the central government, now under Saakashvili’s control. [28] Achieving the policy aim of installing a local proxy quite naturally led Washington to channel funding away from the manipulated “pro-democracy” civil society groups on the ground who paved the way for Saakashvili’s rise to power, to the government forces that would secure the friendly economic and military environment Washington desired. In other words, once civil society served its purpose, it was cut free.

Today, Rose Revolution true-believers are embittered. “Georgia is a semi-democracy. We have traded one kind of semi-democratic system for another,” laments Lincoln Mitchell, who worked for the Rose Revolution-funding Democratic Party-arm of the NED in Georgia from 2002 to 2004. “There is a real need to understand that what happened is another one-party government emerged.” [29]

Naïve do-gooders who thought money pitch-forked into the coffers of civil society groups by wealthy individuals and the US government would create democracy in Georgia now complain that Georgia under Saakashvili is no better, and probably worse, than it was under Shevardnadze.

Mitchel, for example, points out that under Shevardnadze, there was freedom of assembly and the press, the government was too weak to crack down on dissent, and the parliament could lay a restraining hand on the president. Under Saakashvili, the media have far fewer freedoms, civil society has been weakened, the government is strong enough to crack down on dissent with ease, and the parliament is less able to restrain the president. As regards elections, they’re run no better under Saakashvili. [30]

Exporting color revolutions

The Los Angeles Times of September 2, 2008 ran a story on Nini Gogiberidze, a Georgian who “is deployed abroad to teach democracy activists how to agitate for change against their autocratic governments, going everywhere from Eastern Europe to train Belarusians to Turkey to coach Iranians.” She is not, predictably, deployed within her own semi-democratic country, working to bring down the liberal democracy-disdaining Saakashvili.

Gogiberidze’s salary is paid by the Soros-linked Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, funded by the Republican Party arm of the US Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy, headed by John McCain, a friend of Saakashvili. Freedom House, a US ruling class organization that is interlocked with the CIA and is headed by former Michael Milken right-hand man Peter Ackerman, also chips in.

Gogiberidze is hardly the kind of grassroots, left-leaning, radical democracy activist one is led to believe make up the officer corps of the Soros-funded international army against autocracy. Like one of her Zimbabwean colleagues, who is a white conservative businessman with a penchant for good manners and the British royals (who we’re to believe is working underground to overthrow the Mugabe government because he’s keenly interested in democracy), Gogiberidze sounds more like a conservative interested in promoting Western economic interests on behalf of Uncle Sam. She studied at the London School of Economics and is married to an investment banker. She’s also on the payroll of US ruling class foundations. Moscow “views the so-called color revolutions as US sponsored plots using local dupes to overthrow governments” Washington is unfriendly to “and install American vassals.” [31] Is it any wonder?

The Los Angeles Times reporter who brought the Gogiberidze story to light, mocks Moscow’s assessment of the color revolutions, while at the same time documenting the manifold connections Gogiberidze and her fellow color revolutionaries have to US ruling class organizations. The only way to square this circle – to explain how color revolutionaries can be on the regime changer’s payroll while mocking the idea that color revolutions are US-sponsored plots to overthrow governments Washington has targeted for regime change – is to believe billionaire financiers, CIA pass through organizations, and foundations dominated by US investment bankers and CEO’s, are really concerned with promoting democracy.


US ruling class activists and George Soros, sponsored dupes in Georgia to overthrow the Shevardnadze government to bring the ardently pro-US, pro-foreign investment, pro-imperialist Mikhael Saakashvili to power. Since ascending to the presidency, Saakashvili has gone on a neo-liberal binge, privatizing formerly publically-owned assets, replacing the country’s progressive income tax system with a regressive flat tax, and firing civil servants in heaps. While this has earned him the admiration of the World Bank, it has created unrest at home, which Saakashvili has put down with truncheons, rubber bullets, police attacks on opposition media, and abridgements of political and civil liberties.

At the same time, Saakashvili has acted to further his US-sponsor’s military designs, deploying 2,000 Georgian troops to Iraq, bulking up his military, clamoring to join Nato, and keeping Russia off kilter with incessant threats to annex South Ossetia and Abkhazia militarily, now acted upon.

The great democrat, in the eyes of color revolution hagiographers, is hardly a democrat. Leaders who deploy troops to occupy conquered countries, who attempt to integrate regions that don’t want to be integrated, and who limit political and civil liberties when they threaten to derail the building of a business friendly environment, are not democrats, no matter how many dollars their supporters receive from Freedom House, George Soros and the National Endowment for Democracy.

The US seeks to expand its sphere of influence to hem Russia in militarily in order to preserve US pre-eminence; to draw new countries into the Nato alliance to expand markets for US arms manufacturers; and to secure new markets and investment opportunities for US investors and corporations in countries whose economic ties have historically been oriented toward Russia. Russia seeks to resist the encroachment, to hang on to as much as the former Soviet sphere of influence as possible.

To expand its influence into the former Soviet domain, Washington deploys a number of tactics. In Belarus, it sponsors a civil society-based overthrow movement to destablize the Russia-aligned government of Alexander Lukashenko. In Ukraine, it sponsored the Orange Revolution to force the Russian-aligned leader Viktor Yanukovich to yield power to the US-oriented Viktor Yushchenko. Washington is very likely to have sponsored, encouraged and aided the secessionist movement in Chechnya, with the aim of breaking the territory away from Russia.

To maintain, or in an attempt to restore, its influence in these regions, Moscow backs Lukashenko in Belarus and Yanukovich in Ukraine, facilitates Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s remaining independent of Georgia, and militarily crushed the Chechen secessionists.

The struggle to expand spheres of influence (the US) and to maintain or restore them (Russia) inevitably leads powers to take hypocritical positions: the US insists on Georgia’s territorial integrity (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) but denies that of Serbia (Kosovo); Russia insists on its own territorial integrity (Chechnya) but denies that of Georgia.

There is no doubt that the US is the more aggressive party in this clash, but it can be, because it is by far the stronger of the two. The jingoist depiction in the Western media of Russia as provoking a new Cold War and seeking to expand militarily into neighboring countries is without foundation and is an inversion of reality. The US pursuit of a Cold War against Russia has been carried on without interruption since the 1940s. It is not Russia that is aggressively acting to expand its sphere of influence, it is the US. And yet this reality is so infirmly grasped that it is possible for the leader of a country whose scores of thousands of troops occupy conquered Iraq and Afghanistan to lecture Russia that countries don’t invade other countries in the 21st century.

The Rose Revolution was not a people power-driven rebellion against autocracy but a movement of dupes sponsored and manipulated by Washington whose purpose was to pave the way for the rise to power of a US-educated lawyer with connections to Washington and Wall Street.

Saakashvili is not a hero of democratic reform, but a representative of US ruling class interests who is prepared to suspend civil and political liberties, tinker with elections, and commit war crimes if that’s what it takes to secure his patron’s economic and military objectives.

Russia did not initiate an attack on Georgia. Georgia launched an artillery and rocket barrage on the capital of South Ossetia and on Russian peacekeepers before Russia entered Georgia.

The US did not try to defuse tensions in the region; it has actively moved to inflame them.

Russia has not provoked a new Cold War; the US has allowed the Cold War is had pursued against Russia since the 1940s to heat up, using its puppet, Saakashvili to fan the embers.

1. RIA Novosti, August 4, 2008.
2. RIA Novosti, August 6, 2008.
3. Russia Today, August 8, 2008. US assistance to Georgia is about to increase significantly, with Washington announcing on September 3 that it is hiking economic aid to Georgia to $1 billion per year from $63 million in 2007, placing the country among the top recipients of US aid, along with Israel, Egypt, Turkey and Colombia: The Guardian (UK), September 3, 2008.
4. New York Times, August 10. 2008.
5. New York Times, August 13, 2008.
6. Independent (UK), August 8, 2008.
7. New York Times, August 10, 2008.
8. New York Times, September 3, 2008.
9. New York Times, August 10, 2008.
10. New York Times, August 26, 2008.
11. New York Times, August 10, 2008.
12. Los Angeles Times, August 13, 2008.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid.
16. Zbginiew Brzinski, quoted in Serge Halimi, “The Return of Russia,” MRZine, August 28, 2008,
http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/halimi280808.html .
17. Nato in the Balkans, International Action Center, New York, 19998. p. 4.
18. http://www.newamericancentury.org/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf
19. R. Palme Dutt, “Problem of Contemporary history,” International Publishers, New York, 1962.
20. Ibid.
21. View of Russia’s representative to NATO, New York Times, August 28, 2008.
22. New York Times, August 28, 2008.
23. Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2008.
24. “The political realities of ‘democratic’ Georgia,” World Socialist Website, August 18, 2008. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/aug2008/saak-a18.shtml
25. New York Times, August 12, 2008.
26. New York Times, August 14, 2008.
27. “The political realities of “democratic” Georgia,” World Socialist Website, August 18, 2008. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/aug2008/saak-a18.shtml
28. Glenn Kessler, “Georgian Democracy A Complex Evolution,” The Washington Post, August 24, 2008. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/23/AR2008082301817_pf.html
29. Ibid.
30. Ibid.
31. Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2008.

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